Joys of the Patriarchy – Rituals of the Summer Season – The Basement

As the days reach their maximum length and when the mercury passes 90°F in what my old engineering boss would jokingly refer to as “white man’s units,” the dominant male, of the Italic strain at least, would shift his base of operations to the basement level.  Here he would gain a two-fold advantage.  The obvious one is a 15°F – 30°F reduction in ambient temperature as compared to the upper floors but equally as important is the freedom from female annoyance.  The lower level is the male domain.  It contains a pool table, a floor that needn’t be kept swept clean of minute amounts of honest dirt and vast storage space crammed full of valuable possessions that do not pass muster from Camera Girl for inclusion in the various bric-a-brac that she favors for décor.  Hundreds of old books, trophies of past campaigns, tools, and hobby, exercise and sports equipment of all sorts.  A veritable treasure house.

I learned this paradigm from Camera Girl’s father, the Old Fisherman of the Sea himself.  He would inhabit the basement in the summer almost exclusively and it was there that he was happiest.  He had his wine making operation, which encouraged at various times of the year quite a healthy throng of fruit flies, his fishing lure manufacturing space, his tool workshop, his own bath and shower and his favorite old padded chair.  He even had his own freezer and refrigerator to store the endless blue fish and striped bass that were the usual prizes from his frequent fishing trips.  Here he would retreat from the cares of work and family and reign unchallenged by female frippery and the demands for ever higher standards of particle free existence.  And in this environment, he lived to be ninety-five.  And if he hadn’t taken it upon himself to increase his gout medicine dosage to unheard of levels to compensate for his love of wine and beef, he probably would be alive today and well over a hundred years old.  God rest his soul.

Well, anyway in my version of the basement kingdom the lower level has direct access to the swimming pool and since the floor there is tiled there is no need to dry off after swimming.  Drip dry in flip-flops is acceptable.  If someone is exceedingly fastidious there is a bathroom and shower available here along with towels and changing area.  Also, the spare refrigerator from which hidden food items can be stored and retrieved without any note.  And the overstuffed recliner is available for periods of quiet reflection and deep thoughts.  And finally, the lower porch is equipped with a propane grill to handle any meat related cooking that may become necessary.  After all Camera Girl’s kitchen can be monstrously hot at this time of year.  It’s only decent that I pitch in and save her the discomfort of summer cooking as much as I am able.

There used to be a television on the wall but we removed it almost ten years ago.  There is so little worth watching that it never got used.  The only thing it lacks is a full kitchen sink and stove.  I say this with shame.  Because every good Italian American basement had a kitchen built in.  It was a point of pride and a practical feature.  This allowed the holidays with the extended family to be cooked and served in the basement which is always the largest room in the house.  Well, someday I’ll make the time and put the money aside to build this in.  For now, it is my secret shame.

Now the point of this essay is not to regale you with the lies about my basement.  The point is that in the hot weather (and to a lesser extent during all the other seasons of the year) a man can find peace and enjoyment hidden away from his loved ones in the dark and gritty comforts of the basement.  Here he can retreat from his wife and the demands of our hectic world.  Leave your phone and your computer off.  Get your hands dirty and drink a beer or whatever you like to drink and forget your troubles for an hour or even longer if they won’t come digging you out.  It is an amazing thing how they’ll leave you alone down there.  Possibly the castle that a man is king of is really only the dungeon.  But I’ll settle.

The Lord of the Rings – A Book Review – Part 3 – The Various Races or Peoples of Middle Earth

The Lord of the Rings – A Book Review – Part 1

The Lord of the Rings – A Book Review – Part 2 – Tolkien’s Creation Story

In the Lord of the Rings and his other writings Tolkien speaks of races and peoples to mean what we would call different species.  The major division between the Children of Illuvatar was between the Elves and Men (the Eldar and the Edain).  Within these two groups there were further subgroupings that I guess could best be described as tribes or nations.  But the differences between Elves and Men are profound.  The Elves do not grow old.  Therefore, unless they are killed by accident or illness they can live indefinitely.  And even when they die their spirit is constrained to remain within the Realm of Arda which is under the control of the angelic powers, the Valar.  In fact, it is hinted at by Tolkien that eventually the spirits of Elves that have died will be returned to life in Arda after some very long time.  Men are mortal just as humans are on Earth.  In Tolkien’s theology men do not remain in Arda after they die.  Their spirits leave Arda altogether and return to Illuvatar outside of the jurisdiction of the Valar.

What Tolkien seemed to be mirroring with the Elves and Men was the distinction between men who lived before the Christian era who had no chance of redemption from the Christian perspective and those who lived after.  The Elves would be like the Valar in a way.  They could serve Illuvatar and share in the smaller creation that was Arda but within Arda they were not in direct contact with Illuvatar.  Men were meant to escape Arda after their lives and then return to Illuvatar.  Despite the profound differences between Men and Elves Tolkien allowed for the possibility of love and even children between Men and Elves.  But what would the children be, deathless Elves or mortal Men?  Tolkien decided that they would be permitted a choice.  If they chose to be Men then that was a final choice for them and their children.  But if they chose to be of Elven-kind then their children also had the choice to make and in the same way.  Now what this means to me is that any child of a Man would always have the choice to choose to be Human.  And I think this is because the Fate of Man is the higher fate.  The Elves are halfway between Valar and Men.  And despite the tremendous power of the angelic Valar their fate is less than that of Men.

Then there are the Dwarves.  According to the Silmarillion the Dwarves were not created by Illuvatar but instead were the unsanctioned creation of Aulë, one of the Valar.  When Illuvatar spoke to Aulë about what he had done Aulë realized that what he had created weren’t independent beings but only shadows of himself, puppets.  Aulë was about to smash them when he saw that Illuvatar had turned them into living beings with souls of their own.  This makes the Dwarves sort of adoptive children of Illuvatar.  I believe they are like the Elves in being bound to Arda and under the authority of the Valar.  And they are odd in other ways and always seem to be at odds with the natural children of Illuvatar.  They are not naturally evil but the properties that Aulë endowed them with put them at odds with Men and Elves.

The Hobbits are sort of like nature spirits that inhabit English folklore like Puck or Robin Goodfellow but based on Tolkien’s characterization in his books I have to say I believe the Hobbits are human.  They are mortal and beside their stature they are in all ways human.  Maybe Tolkien intended to make them bound to Arda like the Elves and Dwarves but based on the Hobbits we meet I wouldn’t think they should be left out of human heaven.  They’re just too human.

In the Silmarillion Tolkien tells us that the Orcs were made by Morgoth by capturing Elves and corrupting them through his evil influence.  This always made me wonder then if Orcs also did not die of old age.  We are never shown any female Orcs which is probably a blessing but I assume they must exist.  The idea of a corrupted race is a little hard to understand theologically.  For instance, it seems possible that just by chance, an Orc might be born that wasn’t particularly evil.  And if he managed to escape the evil influence of his tribe might live a virtuous life.  I’ve heard people talk along these lines and mock the idea of “good Orcs” and based on what we see in the Lord of the Rings it does seem patently ridiculous but since Tolkien was a Christian writer, I’m sure he thought about that possibility.  Suffice it to say that no “good Orcs” ever show up anywhere in the Tolkien tests.

Dwarves and Elves are pretty standard creatures of Northern European folklore and Tolkien adapted as needed for his use but one of the most original characters that Tolkien place in his Middle Earth was the Ent.  They are the “Shepherds of the Trees.”  They resemble trees.  They are gigantic in size and have great physical strength.  Their ability to rend stone is compared to a much-accelerated version of the action that roots have for infiltrating and cracking stone that they come in contact with.  Ents also appear to live indefinitely unless killed by violence.  But they can become senescent and become completely tree-like.  It seems that the Ents must be another race of creatures like the Elves that are restricted to Arda forever.  But from their description in the Silmarillion, they are never described as Children of Illuvatar.  Possibly Tolkien never left any notes about the status of the Ents because he invented them later on than the Elves and Dwarves.  Whatever their place in the theology of Middle Earth Tolkien designed them with a distinctive and entertaining character.  They are extremely slow and methodical in their actions and extremely long winded in their method of speech.  They think of normal action by any other race as extremely hasty.  This must be to mimic the immobility and permanence of trees in the landscape.

And finally, the last of the other major peoples of Middle Earth are the Trolls.  Trolls are a well-known creature of legend but how Tolkien fits them into his creation is not well defined.  I can remember hearing the explanation that they were Ents that were twisted by Morgoth into evil creatures just as the Elves were turned into Orcs.  Honestly this seems singularly unconvincing.  There doesn’t seem to be much Ent-like character to Trolls.  But I haven’t heard any other explanation so I’ll just leave this as a loose end.  In addition to being evil the main character trait of Trolls seems to be stupidity.  But they are enormously strong and tough so they come in handy for war scenes when something special is needed.

Based on the status of the various races of speaking peoples in Middle Earth what it seems is that Tolkien has Christianized the folklore creatures of Norse mythology by giving them a place in the Genesis story of his world, Middle Earth.  It is not at all clear what the final status is of the Elves, Dwarves, Ents or even the Orcs and Trolls.  They seem to have souls like men and are judged on their deeds, good and evil.  But it is far from clear whether even the Elves can gain Paradise in this theology.  Instead, they seem to be permanently attached to sub-creation of the Valar, the Kingdom of Arda.  And that may be Tolkien’s intention.